States Lag in Gearing Up for No Child Left Behind Law
By Eric Kelderman, Staff Writer
All but five states are behind schedule in overhauling their education policies to meet demands of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, according to a new national survey.
Connecticut, Kentucky, New York, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania are the closest to enacting the 40 separate changes mandated under the two-year-old education law, says a report released today (July 14) by the Education Commission of the States (ECS).
All states are struggling to meet the law's demands to place highly qualified teachers in every classroom and give teachers high-quality training, the report found.
The commission, a national nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that follows trends in education practices, culled its findings from its electronic database of state actions on the federal law. The ECS database was paid for with a $2 million grant from the federal Department of Education. The study looked only at changes in state education policies and did not measure whether states are meeting academic benchmarks.
The report should focus more on which states are best educating children, not on which states are keeping up with the policy requirements, said Scott Young, an education analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures. "Pretty soon states need to stop talking about compliance and start talking about improving [academic] performance."
Although only a handful of states are keeping up with the federal requirements, many other states are very close, said Kathy Christie, vice president for the ECS clearinghouse. "Truly, what we've seen is a tremendous amount of policy activity since [No Child Left Behind] was put in place," she said.
Secretary of Education Rod Paige also praised states progress in meeting the law's mandates. ""The Education Commission of the States Report to the Nation is very encouraging. The commission's analysis shows that states have indeed made considerable progress implementing No Child Left Behind, particularly in the areas of standards, assessments and accountability."
All but two states and the District of Columbia have met or were on track to meet 75 percent of the law's required policies, according to a summary of the report. All 50 states have met or are partially meeting at least half of the education act's mandates.
The No Child Left Behind Act, President George W. Bush's signature education initiative, is meant to raise student performance and requires states to give annual reading and mathematics tests to students in third- through eighth-grade and 10th grade. While legislators and educators have praised the act's intentions, more than half of state legislatures drafted bills this year to protest its costs, penalties and unprecedented federal oversight of school policy.
Under the law, the number of students who pass state tests must steadily increase and all students must pass the tests by 2014. Schools are penalized if they miss the testing targets for two consecutive years, and subgroups of minorities, low-income and disabled children also must meet the benchmarks. Penalties range from allowing students to transfer to higher-scoring schools to providing extra tutoring to facing state takeover.
Currently, 30 states are fully meeting the requirement for an annual reading test, and 29 states have met the requirements for a yearly mathematics test, the report found.
But no state is on track to put highly qualified teachers in every classroom by the fall of 2005, the report states. And no state has set up a system to measure their professional development programs and make sure they are working to improve teaching.
Just 23 states have met requirements to define what "highly qualified" means and begun applying that standard to new teachers who work with low-income students. Only 11 states have developed a system to measure reading, mathematics and science knowledge for teachers in those core subjects.
Oklahoma, one of the states praised by the report, has had the kind of teacher testing and certification required under the No Child Left Behind law for 20 years, said Wendy Pratt, spokeswoman for that state's Department of Education. But Oklahoma has not fully complied with one of the federal requirements to report on the number of highly qualified teachers, she said.
Christie, of ECS, said the education law's focus on teacher certification and quality is a big shift in thinking for policy-makers and presents more political difficulties. For instance, putting a subject test in place for new teachers is easy, while veteran teachers protest that subject tests can't account for years of classroom experience, she explained.
David Shreve, an education policy analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said measuring teacher subject knowledge is relatively easy compared with measuring how well teachers convey that knowledge in the classroom.
"We've been trying for a couple hundred years to measure the effectiveness of teachers," Shreve said. "Simultaneously, you've got everybody thinking they're right, and nobody is."